65 Comments

Summary:

Altough I’ve used Android phones nearly exclusively for 18 months, Apple’s iOS 5 impresses so far. It address issues I had with Apple’s mobile platform and I could switch, regardless of who invented what functionality, because I use the right tool for the task at hand.

ios5-feature

Apple outlined several new features at WWDC on Monday that will arrive with iOS 5 later this fall, which address some of my own issues with the platform. There are a number of similarities to functions from other mobile operating systems, but that shouldn’t surprise, based on this Steve Jobs quote from 1997’s Apple developer event: “If we can be much better without being different, that’d be fine with me.”

I migrated to Android when it became mature enough for me. That was in January 2010, with the purchase of a then-cutting-edge Nexus One handset, complete with Android 2.1. I was enthralled with the nearly unlimited personalization options as well as the support for — perhaps even encouragement of — custom ROMs, that unlock a device sort of like jailbreaking does for an iPhone. It wasn’t until then that I realized how little I cared for the iPhone’s notification system, and how much I appreciated the deep integration of third-party apps in Android. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that I’ve been using Google services full-time for several years, in which case, Android provides me a better experience.

In general though, I’m impressed with what Apple has done. I don’t think it’s enough to sway me back to using iOS full-time, but it’s darn close. Here’s why, from the standpoint of someone who has used Android phones for the past 1.5 years, while supplementing the experience with an iPad and iPod touch.

Notifications are no longer disruptive

Yes, they may look and work just like Android, but the new iOS 5 notifications fix the age-old problem of being too disruptive and difficult to manage. They appear on the iOS lock screen, where you can swipe to unlock the device and go directly to the app that notified, and they appear in a list instead of just one at a time. In a way, this is similar to HTC’s Active Lockscreen I showed Monday on video, but much more powerful, since HTC’s version is limited to four specific apps of the user’s choosing. It can’t display notifications on the lock screen, either.

By building the Notification Center window-shade, iOS 5 allows notifications to appear briefly, then disappear on their own, which is far less disruptive. And since such notifications aren’t lost forever, users can manage them when they see fit, not when iOS does. It’s a much more elegant and effective system: Precisely like Android’s, with the added benefit of notification management from the lock screen. I would like to see a way to clear all notifications with one tap, however.

Twitter integration is a start, but…

One of the Android features that iOS users may not be aware of is how Android integrates third-party apps for sharing. Google’s platform does this natively. Once an app such as Twitter, Facebook, or Flickr is installed, it immediately shows up in the list of share options for photos, the browser, or Google Maps, for example. No additional input from the user is required.

Apple has taken a step in this direction by adding Twitter integration in iOS 5, and while it’s welcome, it’s just a start. For other sharing services, users will have to install bookmarklets or turn to email. That lack of integration caused me to add a Flicker upload email address as a contact to my iPhone in the past. Since there was no way to share photos with Flickr directly, I had to come up with a workaround. My hope is that as iOS matures, the sharing options are less controlled by the operating system, and are simply enabled through the installation of third-party apps.

Music in the cloud sounds great

When I called for music collections in the cloud two Decembers ago, I was summarily dismissed, but a billion dollar data center and 18 months of time heals all wounds. Apple’s new iCloud service will store music purchases and enable downloads to devices on demand; you can already get a look at the service on current iOS devices. In fact, I did just that, and found a few albums that got lost in the shuffle as I’ve moved between various computers over the years. Thanks to the new feature, I regained those albums purchased prior through iTunes.

Both Google and Amazon recently started similar services for Android devices, and I’ve taken full advantage of each. One benefit over iCloud is that both are hybrid services: Your music is stored on the web but can also be streamed as needed — handy for when you’re low on storage. Since Amazon couples its Cloud Player with its Amazon MP3 store, I’ve chosen that over Google Music for now. Still, iOS 5 comes close to parity with iCloud and support for iTunes on Apple’s servers. And kudos to Apple for iTunes Match, the service that adds your ripped music to the cloud without requiring uploads. It’s a safe bet that Apple worked this feature out with the recording labels while Amazon and Google didn’t, a very likely reason why both currently require you to upload your music collection before you can access it.

Wireless sync for all

Speaking of music, native synchronization with iTunes is welcome in iOS 5. As an Android owner, I almost never sync my phone to a computer; at least not with a cable. Instead, I’ve relied upon doubleTwist, which can shoot, playlists, music and video files from a computer to an Android phone over Wi-Fi. The software added support for wireless streaming and AirPlay as well, making it a full-featured solution.

Given that history, I really don’t like connecting my iPod touch or my iPad to a computer for syncing. That goes away with iOS 5 and a new version of iTunes. Gone, too, is the computer from the setup equation for iOS 5. Instead of connecting a new device to the computer for setup and sync, iOS 5 will support direct setup over a wireless network, akin to how Google Android devices have worked since launching in 2008.

iMessage or Google Voice?

I haven’t used BlackBerry’s Messenger service extensively, but iMessage in iOS appears extremely similar. It’s almost a cross between text messaging and IM, complete with read receipts if desired and activity icons to see when the other party is typing. While that sounds great, it illustrates why I never used BBM: The service has always been limited to BlackBerry devices. Apple’s iMessage has the same limitation with support for iOS-to-iOS communications through Apple servers, although it’s supplemented by standard text messaging on the iPhone.

iMessage is sort of like my current setup with Google Talk and Google Voice. I use Google Talk on my handset, but also within iChat on OS X via a Jabber configuration. And Google Voice has been my go-to text messaging service for well over a year. No matter what device I’m using — mobile or desktop — I can send and receive free text messages to any phone on any platform. Apple’s iMessage still looks appealing however, as it integrates FaceTime and email options in a conversation. Of course, I’d like FaceTime much better if Apple had worked to make it an open standard by now, as promised during the service launch.

How compelling is iOS 5 for Android users?

I’m a huge believer in using the right tool for the task, especially when it comes to personal decisions about mobile devices and platforms. That’s why in the past three years, I’ve personally bought phones that run iOS, Android, Windows Phone 7, and webOS. Many of the reasons I looked away from iOS and toward Android have been addressed by iOS 5. And to be honest, it really doesn’t matter to me who created a feature or function vs. who might have copied or borrowed heavily. At the end of the day, if the smartphone is improved and meets my needs, that’s all that counts.

Will I switch from being primarily an Android phone owner to one who uses an iPhone? That depends on few things, and although I didn’t cover all of the new iOS 5 features, there’s much to like.

I’m not sure I can live without the useful widgets that Android supports, but perhaps that’s a feature Apple is still working on with iOS 5. Hardware, too, will play a part in my decision; the next iPhone is sure to have a dual core processor and improve in other ways, but I still think there’s room for a 4-inch iPhone, and I prefer a larger screen. I’m also not sure I want to give up Google Maps navigation and I had hoped that improved voice recognition that rivals Android’s would appear in iOS 5.

Regardless of my future phone choice, even as a heavy Android phone and tablet user, iOS 5 looks to offer an improved experience that’s worth strong consideration. And strong consideration is what I’ll give the next iPhone, whenever it happens to be announced, because there’s room for several great mobile platforms in the growing smartphone space.

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  1. you failed to mention Android runs Flash, iOS never will. iPhone users are missing out on a lot of web content and it’s no just about video clips. How do I know this? Because I’m a disgruntled iPhone user… I can’t even order new checks from my bank with this mobile computing platform.

    1. How is it Apple’s fault that your bank uses Flash to do whatever it does? Shouldn’t your bank be using something more secure than Flash?

    2. You still use checks? How about floppy disks?

      I don’t miss Flash at all on iOS. I also block it on my PC. When I need it I choose when to load it.

    3. Michael, no Flash on iOS is a valid complaint for many users, but one I feel is rapidly becoming less of an issue. In the year+ since Jobs gave Flash the thumbs down, sites have been inexorably moving away from Flash content. After all, there are 200 million iOS devices in use now, and the number continues to swell every day. With the amazing success of iPad, site operators have the choice of updating their content to not require Flash, or risk users simply ignoring them. Users have voted overwhelmingly for iOS with their dollars, and sites are following the money. Even Adobe have tacitly admitted that there’s no holding back the tide, and I get the sense that those sites that haven’t as yet moved away from Flash are scrambling to do so, or risk being sidelined. That being said, that doesn’t solve your problem today, but the writing is definitely on the wall.

      Kevin, thank you for a balanced piece that doesn’t devolve into frothing fanboyism

    4. I never installed Flash on my Android phone, is slow, heavy, and really not useful at all (other than being an argument for iphone vs android fights). Web has already changed.

  2. I think it is inevitable that iMessage will follow BBM onto other platforms – Android, Windows Mobile, BB etc. Apple has been talking a lot about getting into the social networking space. (and failed with Ping) This is a big chance to get a foot in. I would guess that reliability issues for Beluga are not an unrelated issue. Thats what happens when you control the platform. It is only a matter of time before Apple steps in in a big way.

    1. > I think it is inevitable that iMessage will follow BBM onto other platforms

      Just like Facetime, eh? ;-)

      1. I wonder if iMessage uses something standard under the hood. I hope so. Google’s decision to use XMPP/Jabber was great for interoperability with the large number of existing clients & servers, and coding libraries! Knowing Apple it’ll probably be yet another IM platform … or perhaps based on AIM?

    2. I dont think you understand apple.

      You cannot ichat (videoconference) with people not on a mac and its been many many years since ichat released.

    3. But here’s the infuriating problem: they’ve already done this! They have iChat installed on every Mac that’s sold. It uses the cross-platform AOL OSCAR protocol, Jabber protocol, and the local network Bonjour protocol.

      It makes you question why they keep reinventing the wheel? iChat had video messaging, in fact was a huge headlining feature when it was introduced. iChat was really hyped it when 10.5 rolled off the assembly line with iChat Theater, multi-user conferencing, and Screen Sharing. But now it’s in limbo, with FaceTime getting the iOS integration iChat always lacked, and stripping users of the features they were making a big deal out of four years ago.

  3. Oh, please. How many times has Apple updated the iPhone software while you wait forever or four your 1st update? No iTunes on Android- that’s like missing out on millions of content files. No iBooks. No Game Center. Lame icons that look like Windows 3.1 icons.

    Sucks to buy a hack. That’s what Android is.

    1. Kevin C. Tofel lrd Tuesday, June 7, 2011

      You’ve clearly missed the point of the post. If iOS meets your needs, that’s great. But that doesn’t justify harping on other people’s choices which meet their needs.

      1. Thank you for being an ACTIVE blogger and defending your point. Too many people post and forget and allow all the useless comments. I’ve only been a GIGAOM reader for a few weeks but really enjoy it over the “majors”

        1. Kevin C. Tofel Jim Wednesday, June 8, 2011

          Thanks, Jim. And you meant “OTHER majors” right? Just kidding. ;) All joking aside, if we don’t have conversations on the blog, we’re simply writing words and moving on instead of having two-way dialogue and learning from each other. Glad to see you’re enjoying it here and I hope to see you around for a long time to come. :)

    2. “Sucks to buy a hack. That’s what Android is.”

      A hack that iOS 5 clearly iterates from. Even if you’re never going to touch Android, the competition is beneficial to you as an end consumer. Stuff like the app purchase list/push downloads and iCloud syncing may not have been given the go ahead if it wasn’t so prominent on Android.

      1. Prof. Peabody ZZ Wednesday, June 8, 2011

        I don’t agree with lrd’s rude comment either, but you are using the word “iterate” incorrectly.

        iOS could only be said to “iterate from” Android (a very bad grammatical construction regardless of meaning), if with each successive release it copied what Android did in it’s previous release. This is easily proven to be false.

        Iteration usually refers to self-iteration also, not copying of something someone else has done.

      2. @ Prof Peabody: It’s pretty ironic that you go on a grammatical tirade, only to put “it’s” where “its” was the proper form. You fail. You fail hard.

    3. Geez LRD, calm the h*ll down. You sound like a rabid whining child…how old are you?

    4. Fucking snob. That’s the essential core of apple users too. I’m sure you used next computers in 95 too right? Itunes sucks ass.

  4. Dougan Milne Tuesday, June 7, 2011

    As a convert myself, the biggest trouble with switching back would be the loss of Google Voice. Once you have used a fully-integrated gvoice device, number-apps-and-all, I don’t think you could make it through a day without those advantages. Google’s golden sword is having built (and continuing to build) a wonderful unified communications platform. Apple’s triumph is in the unified media platform. The productivity benfits alone – with Google Voice – are the real showstopper for anyone in this same decision process.

    1. Dougan, have you tried the Google Voice app for iOS? I’m curious to know how it compares to Android.

      (Also, as an aside, it’s worth remembering that outside the US, Google Voice doesn’t exist.)

      1. It’s a pretty decent version, but not quite on the level of the Android one. Still, it gets the job done (for me anyway).

  5. What about multi-tasking.. I have iPhone, iPad and a bunch of Android phones and I can tell you the one thing that I hate on iOS is lack of true multi-tasking.

    1. Really? Tell me what senario exactly you find yourself in where “true multitasking” is needed on an iOS device? The term “True multitasking” seems to actually mean “inefficient battery killing multitasking”.

  6. Brian S Hall Tuesday, June 7, 2011

    Kevin, iPhone had me at…when you wrote: “iMessage is sort of like my current setup with Google Talk and Google Voice. I use Google Talk on my handset, but also within iChat on OS X via a Jabber configuration.”

    Um, I’ll bet you my house that 99.999% of humanity has no clue what you’re talking about but if you gave them and a loved one an iOS device they’d get iMessage working instantly, and love it.

    I don’t use Android because, for me, it’s always been a pale copy of iPhone. Except for those times when it’s been a pale copy of Blackberry. But, third party integration of applications as you mention can be extremely joyful. My problem with this has always been that while I definitely prefer an Android/Blackberry level of app integration, I want this only for a very select group of apps (particularly Twitter and Facebook). Meaning, I hate to admit, that Apple gets to remain the kingmaker of third party apps.

  7. The “share” feature you describe has been part of iOS for a while. Apps can message each other in various ways, and in particular, any app can send a file to another app. Once an app is set to send files, it can send them even to apps it was previously unaware of–it’s not hardcoded. For instance, I upload things to Dropbox from various apps all the time. This is because Dropbox registers itself as being able to “read” almost everything.

    1. That iOS 4 feature is limited compared to the Android version though, so it doesn’t quite give the same level mix/matching of apps that’s been a feature of Android even in it’s Blackberry clone days.

  8. The best way I would describe the difference is that Android is like a polyester suit. It does the job and looks ok, but it just doesn’t have the comfort and feel of fine wool. That’s the difference. Having said that, polyester suits sell well and many folks are happy with them.

  9. I feel Apple have done a very decent job in matching the extra features of Android. It even have very new stuff like web installation.

    There is nothing particular that’s not already offered by google though, outside of the iMessage. The sole disappointment is that the iCloud doesn’t stream. That make this service pretty useless, no matter how cheap it is.

    I think at this point what iOS 5 and Android 3.0 offer are pretty much toe to toe. You really have to look into hardware to find the “deal breakers”. And this is where the Android advantage is. It can offer so many specific hardware feature to cater to the niche markets that any other smartphone OS will be hard to match.

    As an Android user, I don’t see any new iOS feature I want google to steal. Maybe the automatic photo backup service? What I really want right now is a guarantee way to remote wipe a Android phone once I lose it. I hope google get on it.

    1. The Android version of iMessage is Gtalk. Only difference is that the SMS and Gtalk apps aren’t combined into one app.

      1. Prof. Peabody ZZ Wednesday, June 8, 2011

        It seems you are dedicated to playing the role of Android apologist/defender for this thread, but I have to say (without boring anyone with the long detailed criticism), that most of the things you say are not exactly true at all. You’re just twisting everything to your own particular point of view.

        In reference to this particular comment … Gtalk is not really like iMessage that much, and the fact that SMS is a separate app is certainly *not* the “only difference.” Most of your other remarks could easily and similarly be pulled apart but I like to stay positive as much as possible.

        It’s likely that nothing I could say would likely convince you that you are wrong about even the smallest point anyway. I get that you think you are just being an Android cheerleader, but please be aware that to others it just comes off like bullying.

      2. Ivan Kowalenko ZZ Thursday, June 9, 2011

        @Prof. Peabody (sorry, comments don’t seem to recurse far enough) You’re right in that GTalk isn’t entirely like iMessage, but it’s not too far off. At the moment, it lacks some things like read receipts, file attachment, and the SMS integration. But I can do FaceTime-like audio and video chats, and you can probably bet that Google will be playing catch-up on the feature count with this one.

        However, you’re right: it’s not like iMessage that much, but it is analogous to iMessage, and I’m sure the feature set will be pretty close.

        P.S. — Not trying to be an Android apologist, just a guy who has owned a BlackBerry, iPod Touch, Nokia N73, T-Mobile Dash, and a Nexus S throwing in his 2¢ on the topic.

  10. Bob Frankston Wednesday, June 8, 2011

    Does IOS5 build Twitter in as a special case or is it done using a general purpose mechanism?

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